What to do in Serengeti?
The Attractions in Serengeti National Park are what brings many tourists to Tanzania every year. The Serengeti National Park is a UNESCO World heritage site and the most popular in Tanzania. It is located in the North Eastern part of the country and covers an area of about 30,000 sq. km. To the north of the park is the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, to the west are two Game Reserves (Ikorongo and Grumeti) and to the Southwest is the Maswa Game Reserve. Serengeti means “Endless plains” among the Maasai.
The Serengeti National Park was established in 1952 and at that point included the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The park is characterized by endless plains which are dotted with kopjes, rivers and acacia trees. These features are home to the big 5 mammals (elephants, buffaloes, rhinos, leopards and lions), wildebeest, zebras, hyenas, giraffes, African dogs, hippos, crocodiles and over 450 species of birds.
Because of its endless grasslands, the Serengeti is the ultimate safari destination for those who are interested in game drives or want to follow the great animal migration. This annual migration involves the movement of over 2 million zebras, gazelles and wildebeest. It is considered to be one of the greatest wildlife spectacles on earth.
The Serengeti National Park can be visited throughout the year. However, to witness the great migration, you need to visit at the right time. The best time to follow the migration in the Serengeti is between May to June and December to March.
Between May to June the wildebeest can be seen close to River Grumeti. From December to March, one needs to go to the Southern Plains to have the best sights. July to October is also excellent if you are visiting the Northern areas of Kogatende, Lobo and Loliondo.
This is where the wildebeest leave Tanzania and cross the Maraa river into Kenya. The Central Serengeti is unique because the animals can be seen all year round.
You can also check out our 3 days Serengeti and Ngorongoro tour package. We also have the 6 days gorilla trekking and Serengeti safari package for travelers who desire to experience the best that Africa has to offer in terms of wildlife. You can also read more about our Shorter 2 Days Serengeti wildlife tour.
Attractions in the Serengeti National Park
What can you do in the Serengeti? The main attractions in the Serengeti are nature walks, game drives, Hot Air Balloon Safaris, Bush meals, visiting the Serengeti Visitor Center, visiting Olduvai Gorge, visiting the Ngorongoro Crater, observing the Wildebeest Migration, visiting the Maasai, Camping, exploring the Bologonja Springs, the Lobo Valley, The Moru Kopjes, Bird Watching, Swimming, the Hippo Pool and Lake Natron. We will now discuss all of them in more detail.
Early morning game drive: A game drive in the Serengeti is without doubt the most popular thing to do. It is the best way to see big 5 and other resident creatures. Animals in the Serengeti are very active in the morning and evening hours. The morning game drive starts at sunrise and ends at around 11: am. It is designed to allow tourists spot nocturnal animals retreating back to their holes/dens or observe herbivores going out to graze. The morning game drive is also excellent for spotting hyenas, wild dogs, lions, cheetahs, leopards and hippos (as they return from a night of grazing outside the pools). Lions love hunting in the night and early in the morning before the sun gets too hot.
Note: Ensure that you take breakfast earlier than usual or ask staff in your lodge to pack for you something so that you don’t get hungry while out in the savanna. The roads are rough and the area to cover long. Because of that, you will need a professional guide to help you identify all the different species of animals and birds you will encounter along the way.
It is important to note that there are also afternoon game drives starting from 2:00pm to 5:30pm. If you don’t want to miss anything, you can go for the full day game drive starting from 6:30am to 5:30pm.
Guided Nature walks: Nature walks are an excellent way to discover the Serengeti in a way that would not be possible while on a standard game drive. The Nature walks are unpredictable and you don’t follow specific tracks. This allows you to spot reptiles, birds, insects and other rare plants along the way. Most nature walks are organized by some of the accommodation facilities. You will be escorted by an armed ranger who is experienced in the terrain and knows about the different species in the park.
Hot Air Balloon Safari: If you want to have a different perspective of the vast Serengeti national park and can afford it, we highly recommend a hot air balloon safari. From thousands of feet above the ground, you will get an aerial view of the plains and the animals that roam it. Hot air balloon safaris are particularly popular during the wildebeest migration allowing travelers to observe them in the thousands. Hot air balloon safaris start in the morning and ends with champagne breakfast in the African wilderness. Hot air balloons can take between 12 to 16 people. You need to book your tour in advance and prepare to pay about $500. Hot Air balloon safaris are excellent for honeymooners and those planning to celebrate an anniversary or birthday party. You will never forget the experience of getting a bird-eye view of the Serengeti plains and Africa’s famous wildlife.
Meals in the Bush: If you are traveling with a partner or are planning to spend your honeymoon in the Serengeti, you will find having dinner in the middle of the African wilderness something to remember. Most of the good hotels can arrange dinner under the stars with well-set tables.
Visit the Serengeti Visitor Center: If you are wondering about where to get all the information you need to know about the park, then you must visit this Visitor center. The Centre contains exhibits and other detailed information about the Serengeti, the ecosystem and its history. After touring the facility, you can also visit the gift and coffees shops. Alternatively, you can go for relaxation in the picnic area.
The Olduvai Gorge: The Olduvai Gorge is also known as the “cradle of mankind” because it is where the very first human remains where excavated by the Leakey family. The Gorge is found in the nearby Ngorongoro Conservation Area and within the East African Rift Valley. The Leakey family established a research base there and in so doing discovered several fossils and tools that were over 2 million years old. These tools and human remains can be seen from a small museum in the facility.
Visit the Ngorongoro Crater: The Ngorongoro Crater is no longer part of the Serengeti but now part of the wider Ngorongoro Conservation area. The crater is home to over 30,000 large mammals and has often been described as a “garden of Eden” for wildlife. The crater was formed when an ancient volcano (the size of Mount Kilimanjaro) exploded and collapsed on itself. As time went on, animals were attracted to the abundant waterholes and vegetation in the crater. Animals within the Ngorongoro do not migrate and this allows for wildlife viewing all year round. The Masai herdsmen are allowed to look after their animals from within the gorge. You can therefore encounter them as you look out for Africa’s big 5 mammals.
Wildebeest Migration: Over 1.6 million herbivores (zebras, gazelles and wildebeest) migrate between the Serengeti National Park and the Maasai Mara National Reserve each year. As they move, they go through great challenges and have to evade predators like lions, hyenas, leopards and wild dogs. One of their greatest challenges is crossing the Mara river as they cross to Kenya. They have to cross the crocodile infested river and deal with the high current. If they cross at the wrong point of the river, they risk drowning or stampeding on each other leading to thousands of deaths. The wildebeest migration attracts tourists to the Serengeti because it offers countless opportunities to witness the great battles between prey and predator. Travelers can also spend the whole day watching the wildebeest graze or give birth (calving).
Visit the Maasai: The Maasai are semi-nomadic pastoralists living in most parts of Southern Kenya and Northern Tanzania. They are arguably the most known East African tribal group. They have a tall stature and put on vibrant/colorful attire. The Masai have lived within/close to the Serengeti plains for the last 300 years (after migrating from Sudan). They still believe in their ancient traditional practices and values. A visit to one their villages (bomas) is an excellent opportunity to learn about their culture and traditional beliefs. They are very friendly and will show you how to hunt, milk domestic animals, cook traditional food and much more. After visiting the individual homesteads, you can also visit one of the local schools, attend traditional dance performances and buy handicrafts.
Camping: Camping in the wilderness is also one of the popular activities while on a safari in the Serengeti. Your hotel should provide you with all the camping gear, a chef and armed guards. Camping is even more exciting if you travel in a group. You would have fun with your group-mates as you party under the African sky. Basic tents cost about $50 per night while the luxury tents can cost $900 per night. Regardless of whether you go for the budget or luxury tents, the results are the same. You will still get to experience what it is like to sleep in the African wilderness with the beautiful sounds of birds, hungry lions and nervous herbivores.
The Bologonja Springs: These beautiful springs are found in the northeastern corner of the park. The Bologna springs offer some of the most scenic views in the Serengeti. The springs provide water which allows vegetation to thrive throughout the year. This in turn attracts several species of small primates, birds, migrating animals, giraffes, elephants, steenbok, mountain reedbuck and many other plant eaters. Because of their remoteness, you get to explore them without the large crowds seen in central Serengeti.
Night Game Drive: Ever wondered what it would feel like hearing the sound of wildlife in the night? A night game drive is the perfect answer. Whereas Night game drives are generally not permitted in the Serengeti National Park, a number of outfitters can arrange it in neighboring reserves. The Serengeti and private conservancies are home to many nocturnal animals like civets, aardvarks, nightjars and bush babies. Night game drives also offer travelers a chance to observe zebras, hyenas, impala, giraffes, jackals and foxes. Lions, hyenas and Leopards are very active at night. It is the best time to spot them take down prey.
Visit the Lobo Valley: The Lobo valley is the best place to spot lions and the other big cats in the Serengeti. The big cats are attracted to the valley because of abundant prey and permanent waterholes. Apart from the big cats, the Lobo Valley also attracts baboons, elephants and giraffes. Between July and November, the valley is the center of the great migration. Tourists flock the valley to observe zebras, wildebeest and gazelles enjoying the lush green grass in the area.
Visit the Moru Kopjes: Remember the Lion King’s Pride Rock? Well that was a Kopje. Kopjes are rocky areas that dot the Serengeti plains. They are covered with vegetation, small pools and shade. This is where lions and other predators go to rest as they lookout for prey. The Moru Kopjes are the most popular and impressive within the Serengeti. They also contain old Masai paintings. From the top of the Kopjes, you can scan the horizon with your binoculars and get beautiful views of wildlife in the plains. The Moru Kopjes are the best place to spot black Rhinos.
Bird Watching: The Serengeti National Park is home to 542 recorded species of birds. 100 of them are permanent residents of the park while 11 are endemic to the Serengeti. There are also migratory birds that visit the park between November and April. They come all the way from Europe and North Africa. The species to look out for are the great African Ostrich, vultures, Black-headed Heron, D’Arnaud’s barbet, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Decken-Toko Tockus, Grey-breasted spurfowl, Grey-headed sparrow, Purple Grenadier, Red-backed scrub, Rufous-tailed weaver, Secretary birds, The Kori bustard, Variable Sunbird, White-bellied go-away bird, White-crowned shrike and Yellow-throated sandgrouse.
Swimming at your hotel facility: Game drives and other activities within the Serengeti can be very tiring especially during the dry seasons. After completing activities in the savanna plains, all you want to do in get back to your room and head to the pool. It will probably be a different experience given the warm tropical climate. Swimming alone is great but doing it with friends and family is fun. As you soak in the day’s heat, you can order for a glass of wine or juice and chat with travelers from different parts of the globe.
The Retina Hippo Pool: This is not a swimming pool but where hippos wallow in. The pool is found in the Seronera sector of the park and attracts hundreds of hippos. Hippos and buffaloes are arguably the most dangerous animals to humans in the Serengeti. The pool offers you a chance to observe them and take great photos. Tourists are allowed to explore the pool on foot as they watch the watch the hippos fight for the best spots. After watching the mammals and taking photos, you can go for lunch at the picnic area.
Lake Natron: Lake Natron is located four hours’ way from Serengeti. It lies within the Ngorongoro Conservation area. The lake is salty and filled with algae. Despite that, several salt-loving organisms have adapted to it. The Lake is also home to countless birds including over 2 million lesser flamingos. Flamingos thrive here because of the abundant algae and absence of predators/ humans to disturb their breeding cycles. If you are birder, nature lover or want to do something different, this is one place you should put on your bucket list.